ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This week, KRQE News 13 told viewers about a hot air balloon company with a grand idea for a new type of hot air balloon ride. The company wants to take passengers to new heights above New Mexico, about 29,000 feet above sea level. But the idea is raising concerns among local balloonists.
Local balloonists are pointing out the challenges of such tourist flights and some are even questioning whether it can be done. In ballooning, the sky is the limit, but when the company Everest Balloon announced they are rolling out a unique hot air balloon flight, the local ballooning community erupted with skepticism with some insisting there are some limits.
“If it didn’t go well, it could certainly look poorly on our local ballooning community,” said gas balloonist Peter Cuneo.
Typically, a hot air balloon will fly up to 3,000 feet. But in an Everest flight, passengers would fly as high as 29,000 feet. At that altitude, balloonists told KRQE News 13 there are a lot of concerns. From the frigid temperatures, the difficulty of getting propane to burn at such oxygen-starved altitudes, and the distance a balloon would travel from its launch site. And of course, the biggest hurdle: clearing flights with the FAA.
“It really takes a lot of paperwork from the FAA to go above 18,000 feet because that’s where the jetliners are flying and you really don’t want to [be] getting in the way of a 747 or 737. It has to be cleared with the FAA,” said Cuneo.
We took these concerns back to Douglas Hase with Everest Balloon, he said his flights have already addressed each of those concerns. “We have the full support of the FAA and we have the required transponders,” said Hase over the phone. “Everything was purpose-built to fly up to 29,000 feet and back down. With physiology, yes we will have an oxygen protocol and a medical protocol. So we have all the bases covered and we are very much looking forward to taking people on this adventure.”
There is another concern, the company plans to launch their balloons from Albuquerque and have them land here. But local balloonists warn such a high altitude flight could land hundreds of miles away in Oklahoma or Texas.
KRQE News 13 reached out several times to the FAA for a comment but did not hear back.